Pittsburgh Steelers rookie wide receiver George Pickens struggled to get targets in the early portions of the season. From the very first game, which they even won, he was fielding questions about whether or not it was frustrating for him.
Now it has become whether or not he’s enough of the focal point of the offense. While not perhaps having established himself yet as the team’s number one receiver, the second-round pick out of Georgia is clearly garnering a lot of attention with his play. And as we’re frequently reminded, those plays we see in the stadium are what his teammates see all the time behind closed doors.
“He can really be a monster in this league if he continues to just keep working”, Cameron Heyward said of his young teammates yesterday on his Not Just Football podcast. “He’s got a good head on his shoulders. But the plays he makes on Sundays are the plays we see all the time in practice, and it’s nothing new. This dude works his tail off”.
Through seven games, Pickens has 26 receptions on the year for 338 yards and a touchdown. He caught his first NFL touchdown during Sunday’s game late in the first half, an acrobatic snare on a seven-yard fade on which he showed strong body control to get his feet inbounds.
Pickens tied a career high with six receptions days ago, something he’s done in three of the past four weeks, but this time he did it on just six targets, going for 61 yards. Yet just two of those targets and about 13 of the yards if memory serves came in the second half.
“To start the game, we were really featuring George, and what is a team going to do? They’re gonna try to find ways to get the ball out of his hands, whether it’s rotating to that side or blitzing from that side”, Heyward said, commenting from a defensive perspective.
“That’s one of the things you see a lot from defenses at the next level”, he added. “They’re not just putting coverage over top, but they will blitz to that side just to make sure the quarterback doesn’t even think about going that way”.
Head coach Mike Tomlin referred to the “contours of the coverage” in his post-game remarks when he was asked about why Pickens was not featured in the second half in the same way as he was in the first. The rookie did not receive a single target until under the six-minute mark in the fourth quarter, and then both targets came on successive plays, not to be targeted again.
For now, he ranks fourth on the team in receptions, but first in yardage. He has one of just five passing touchdowns on the season for the Steelers thus far, with running back Najee Harris the only one with multiple scores.